Well (spoiler alert!) at least nobody died in this year’s finale of Downton Abbey. Set around 8 months after last week’s episode, the Crawley family head over to London to occupy Grantham House for Cousin Rose’s debutante presentation and celebratory ball. Some threads of the season were tied up, while others were left dangling to no doubt be continued in season 5.
Warning: Spoilers for episode 8 (season finale) below!
Everyone’s coming to London for Lady Rose’s big day. Even Cora’s mother and brother Harold (played by the fantastic Paul Giamatti) have crossed the great pond to make an appearance. It was nice to see the culture clash play out between Cora’s family and the stuffy British society she’s assimilated into. Harold and Mrs. Levinson even get courted while they’re in town, by the gold-digging Lord Aysgarth and his daughter, Madeleine Allsopp.
Edith has made her return from Switzerland, having left her baby daughter behind. She has misgivings about this, especially after she learns a little more news about Michael Gregson. Apparently he was in a fight with some brown shirted toughs who were saying awful things Gregson did not agree with. Thinking he might be dead, and being his power of attorney (so I guess there really wasn’t anything underhanded about that document Gregson had her sign), she may be set to inherit Gregson’s money. But Edith feels half that money belongs to his daughter. Aunt Rosamund keeps bullying Edith into leaving thoughts of the baby behind. But Edith is growing tired of being pushed around by her family’s expectations. After a talk with Tom at Rose’s ball, in which Tom tells her that they must stick up for themselves, Edith informs her mother that she must go to the continent for a short time. It was great to see Edith finally showing some gumption, and I loved the look she gave her aunt. Edith immediately returns home, where she meets with Mr. Drewe (the loyal tenant/pig farmer). He promises that he and his wife will take Edith’s baby in, and he will keep Edith’s secret.
Tom’s remarks to Edith might have something to do with a certain interaction with Miss Bunting. Before coming to London, Tom runs into her on the street and invites her to dinner. Miss Bunting them promptly invites herself back to Downton to see the great house. Tom is very uncomfortable bringing a single lady back to the house (as he should be, after all his run-ins with Edna Braithwaite!), and wouldn’t you know, as soon as they get upstairs to peer down at the great hall, who should appear from the shadows but Thomas! Thomas, who suddenly has it out for Tom, since he’s suddenly decided to become jealous of Tom’s rise from chauffeur to family member (seriously, why is that happening now? Thomas got bored with Baxter and landed on a new target?). While Tom assures him that it was all completely innocent, that does not stop Thomas from informing Lord Grantham when they arrive in London. This one was left hanging, so I assume Tom’s search for self-identity will continue next season.
Meanwhile both Charles Blake and Tony Gillingham are in town, and spend their time vying for Mary’s affections. Mary finally concedes to Tony that while a year ago she thought she’d never get over Matthew, she now feels there is a future for her. To help level the playing field, Gillingham, being the honorable man that he is, tells Mary that Charles Blake is much wealthier than he lets on. He stands to inherit from Sir Severus Blake, and will become even richer than Gillingham. So Mary’s concerns that she and Charles would never see eye-to-eye on things is removed. She basically gives both Gillingham and Blake permission to begin pursuing her. Or, as she says at the end to Charles, “Let battle commence.” Which I suppose we will see play out in season 5. Now I really want to see a duel on the front lawn of Downton. Make it happen, Fellowes!
The central plot of this particular episode was Rose’s tipsy-ness almost causing the monarchy to crumble under the weight of scandal. Seriously. After making friends with the Prince of Wales’s mistress, Freda Dudley Ward, Rose lets it slip to card sharp Sampson (who makes a reappearance thanks to Aunt Rosamund) that Freda has a scandalous letter in her bag when they meet him at the Embassy club. Then she promptly leaves said bags, asking Sampson to watch them. Good call, Rose. He promptly pockets the love letter from the Prince of Wales, and imminent royal scandal is upon us. Rose confesses what happened to Robert, who comes up with a scheme to try to get the letter back that is way too convoluted to try to lay out here. Let’s just say that through said scheme we learn an awful lot about Bates. We already knew he was an excellent forger (remember him forging Molesley’s signature in ep. 1?), but now we can add crafty pick-pocket to that list, as Bates fishes the letter out of Sampson’s jacket as he slips it on him. And perhaps most importantly, we learn that in Bates’s opinion, the safest place for something you don’t want to lose is to be on your person at all times.
This information is important due to the continuation of the “Did Bates kill Anna’s attacker?” plot. When Anna gives Mrs. Hughes a jacket of Mr. Bates’s for charity, Mrs. Hughes discovers a ticket to London in the pocket, dated from the day Mr. Green conveniently stepped out into the street and was hit by a bus. Mrs. Hughes confides in Mary about it, who initially thinks he may need to be turned into the police. But once Bates shows his loyalty to the family by using his evil powers for good, Mary decides that she too, should be loyal to Bates and Anna. And thus the ticket is thrown in the fire (never mind the fact that Bates probably should have done that to begin with).
So, did Bates kill Green? Given the silent, knowing looks he gave both Mrs. Hughes and Mary when they spoke vaguely about getting into trouble in London, I think we know the answer. But it seems that all is well once again between Bates and Anna. It’s almost as if the whole terrible thing never happened. At the end of the episode we see them at the seaside, arm-in-arm, Anna buying Bates an ice cream cone to make up for giving Bates’s jacket to Mrs. Hughes without asking him first.
Elsewhere downstairs, Daisy is courted by Mr. Levinson’s valet, Ethan. He tries to get her to come to America and cook for his boss so they can spend more time together, but in the end Daisy turns him down. But Ivy, who’s been hovering nearby through the whole thing, jumps at the chance at a new start. So maybe now that she’s out of the way, Alfred and Daisy might get together one of these days (Alfred, by the way, has been hired on at the Ritz, much to Daisy’s proud delight). It was nice to see Daisy happy for once, as she tells Mrs. Patmore how wonderful it was to have a young man fancy her for a change.
Molesley continues to fight in Baxter’s corner. Somehow his bumbling ways seem to have given Baxter strength, and she decides that, rather than telling Thomas all the info she’s picked up over the course of the stay in London, she will endure whatever scandalous information he reveals about her and her past (which we still don’t know yet). Looks like another “to be continued” until season 5.
And perhaps in one of the most surprising moments–Carson and Mrs. Hughes (along with the rest of the downstairs staff) go to the seashore, and hold hands as they wade into the water. As Mrs. Hughes says, “We’re getting on Mr. Carson, you and I. We can afford to live a little.”
So that’s a wrap for another season of Downton Abbey. Season 5 has already begun filming, so it’s definitely back for another season, in which some of these loose ends will hopefully be tied up.
Overall, I found the season entertaining, but I wasn’t emotionally invested in any of the plots this year. I think the season finale sums up the season as a whole: a whole lot of fluff without much substance. I miss the Matthew/Mary back and forth. I miss Sybil, for whom Rose will never be an adequate substitute. I wish the main characters we’ve known since the beginning were given more substantial, meatier character arcs (I’m looking especially at poor Edith). Mary seems to be the only one Fellowes is really writing for, and even her arc this season could have been so much stronger. I would love to have seen just one scene where Mary sits with baby George and says something, anything, about his father. Just one little scene. I’m not asking Mary to go sobbing over Matthew’s grave, or to continue in her zombie-like trance. And I know it’s a little out of character for Mary to show her emotions, but it’s not like her toddler son could go blabbing to everyone that Mum was being all soppy talking about Dad. I think there’s more they could have done with her transformation, but Fellowes chose not to do it. Instead, he introduced a parade of new characters to try and fill the void left by Matthew and Sybil. And unfortunately for him, quantity does not equal quality in this case.
That being said: yes, I will watch season 5. I just don’t think I’ll look forward to it with the same amount of excited anticipation as I have in past seasons.
What did you think of the season finale, and season 4 as a whole?